I just turned 71. That’s old – at least in my books. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve made it this far. Other times I can’t believe how much there is left I want to do. At my age, I think it’s pretty common for people to start thinking about these things, and what we want to leave behind – our legacies.
Politicians have a much shorter lifespan – politically speaking, that is. They can be around for four years or less. Rarely more than eight. That’s why I’m often surprised by how little they seem to want to accomplish in that time. Certainly, I understand the lure of the status quo. Change is hard. Often vested interests will fight you every step of the way. Political advisors will say “No, no, no – stay the course! Don’t make waves! Get re-elected!”
But what’s the point of being re-elected if you aren’t going to DO anything? Yes, yes, maybe I’m being na?ve. Maybe politicians are just there to support their vested interests, take home a fat paycheck and pension, and revel in the power of their office. But surely there’s got to be more to it than that? The life of a politician is not one I envy. It’s hard, sometimes brutal. You are constantly under scrutiny. You are always on the job. It takes up your entire life.
That’s why I honestly believe that most politicians at least start out wanting to work for the common good. Many become overwhelmed by the muck, but great leaders act. They make bold decisions and move on them. They don’t tinker when big changes are needed and they don’t change things just for the sake of change. One of my pet peeves is the way some administrations will move into office and, rather than take an honest assessment of what’s working and what isn’t, instead set out to dismantle everything the previous administration had done just to make a point.
Of course, it’s hard for leaders to act without public support. But right now, the environment is the top public concern. The public will support strong environmental leadership, so now’s the time for our political leaders to act.
And politicians are indeed starting to take note. Seeing the success of initiatives in Europe, some politicians in North America are making bold decisions and plans to clean up our environment. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in California may have been the brunt of jokes when he was first elected, but no one’s laughing now as he’s carefully crafted one of the world’s most progressive, legislated plans to reduce pollution and global warming.
Recently, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell went down to California to talk to Schwarzenegger about his plans. That’s a very encouraging sign. Premier Campbell’s Speech from the Throne earlier this year was very bold and painted a new vision of British Columbia as leading North America in terms of sustainability. Given how proud British Columbians are of their natural heritage, progressive environmental leadership seems like a natural fit. It will also help diversify and strengthen B.C.’s economy in the long term, and also be a model for other provinces.
This is exactly what our leaders should be doing – learning from each other. Many provinces and states are coming out with exciting new programs towards sustainability. Ontario recently announced a “standard offer contract” system for renewable energy that’s the first of its kind in North America. I hope Premier Campbell, and all our leaders, take a good look at the best examples of environmental leadership from all jurisdictions and incorporate them into their own plans.
In the end, all that we have are our legacies. I’ve been on this planet now for 71 years. I don’t know how many years I have left, but I promise you I plan to make the most of them. I hope our political leaders look at their terms in office the same way.
Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at http://www.davidsuzuki.org.